BDE: Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Holtzman of Crown Heights

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yaakov holtzman
Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Holtzman, z”l

Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Holtzman of Crown Heights, a devoted Lubavitcher chassid who was extremely close with the Rebbe Harav Menachem Mendel and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, z”l, was hit by a truck and killed Thursday in Western New York. He was 87 years old.

Baruch Dayan Ha’emes.

Yaakov Tzvi was born on 5 Shevat, 5694 to Rabbi Yitzchok Manis Holtzman in Paris. Following World War II, as a child survivor of the Holocaust, the young boy ended up in a Chabad orphanage in Paris. There, he met the future Lubavitcher Rebbe for the first time, when the Rebbe traveled to Paris to meet his mother Rebbetzin Chana and escort her to New York.

During the Rebbe’s stay in Paris, he visited the orphanage and tested the kids on their Torah knowledge, awarding prizes. Yaakov Tzvi, who was thirteen at the time, used this opportunity to ask the Rebbe if he could come to America. A year later, in 5709, a visa was arranged for him and he traveled to the United States, settling in Crown Heights. There, he saw the Frierdiker Rebbe for the first time and enrolled in the the central Tomchei Tmimim Yeshiva.

His relationship with the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin began in 5714z That year, the Rebbetzin went to Europe for several weeks and, during her absence, the Rebbe’s meals were prepared by a local cook. Yaakov Tzvi was selected to pick up the food and serve it to the Rebbe. After the Rebbetzin returned, he continued to help out. For about four years, he filled the role of their handyman, helping them prepare for Pesach and Sukkos.

yaakov holtzman
Rabbi Holtzman putting tefillin in someone this week. (Moshe Klein)

“This is how the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s house became his home away from home, so to speak,” his son Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Holtzman related in a interview with JEM’s My Encounter.

Since he had lost his father during the war and his mother lived in Europe, the Rebbetzin looked after him. When he started shidduchim, she told him, “It’s not appropriate that you should go on every shidduch in the same suit,” and she gave him one of the Rebbe’s old suits to wear, so that he would have another. (The Rebbe then was no longer wearing a suit but a kapote, so this presumably was one that he no longer needed.)

In the late 1950’s, Yaakov Tzvi married his wife Chaya Tzipora, a grandchild of the renowned mashpi’im Reb Shilem Kuratin and Reb Avremke Zebiner. The Rebbetzin sent them a wedding present, a beautiful set of silver cutlery.

In 5726, the Rebbe instructed the Holztmans to travel to Antwerp on shlichus, where they founded the city’s first Chabad minyan, a Camp Gan Yisroel and a shop to purchase Chabad seforim, among many other activities in the city.

Even after they moved to Belgium, the Rebbetzin stayed in touch with them. Once, upon hearing that Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi was ill, she asked someone in London to send special medicine to him.

yaakov holtzman
Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Holtzman (Mendel Tzikashvili)

In recent years, the Holtzmans lived in Beitar Illit. After Mrs. Holztman was niftar in 2006, Rabbi Holtzman moved to Crown Heights.

Rabbi Holtzman recently visited Buffalo, where his son Reb Meshulem lives. On Thursday, he was on a farm in the Village of Wyoming, around 50 miles east of Buffalo, to give a hechsher on milk, when a truck in the barn fatally struck him.

Chesed Shel Emes coordinated with chevrah kadishah personnel from Rochester and Buffalo, to work with the medical examiner in ensuring kavod hameis.

Gadi Hershkop, a gabbai in the Rayim Ahuvim shul in Crown Heights where Rabbi Holtzman davened, told Hamodia, “I am so shocked, I can’t breathe,” after hearing that his friend Rabbi Holtzman was niftar.

“I spoke to him every day,” said Hershkop. “He was such a beautiful person and an unbelievable Jew. Just this morning, he attended a shiur by Rabbi Moshe Klein on Zoom.”

Rabbi Holtzman is survived by his children Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Holtzman of Crown Heights; Rabbi Uri Holtzman of Beitar Ilit, Eretz Yisroel; Rabbi Noach Holtzman of Crown Heights; Rabbi Meshulam Holtzman of Buffalo; and Mrs. Fruma Kraus of Crown Heights.

Yehi zichro baruch.

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